Accents redux


By Jae-Ha Kim
September 10, 2013

The other day, I was talking to some of the teachers at my son’s Korean school. After listening to me talk, one of the other moms said something along the lines of, “Oh, you must’ve lived in the U.S. for a long time…” Meaning, I spoke Korean poorly with a thick Western accent.

I was embarrassed, and I wanted to tell her …

• That I have spent almost all of my life in the United States, and that I have been fighting an uphill battle to retain my Korean language skills.

• That I was encouraged by my parents and teachers to speak only English, so that I could assimilate better.

• But that once I became fluent in English, my Korean all but disappeared.

• That I didn’t learn how to read or write basic Hangul until I was 11 or 12.

• And that it takes me a long time to go over my son’s homework, and even longer to read the notebook of paperwork, emails and bulletins that the staff sends out in Korean.

I was about to apologize for my accent, and then I stopped myself. You want to make fun of my Korean? Fine. But then we’re going to be Korean.

So, I smiled and politely thanked her for assuming I was much younger than I actually am, because if she only knew how old I actually was, surely she wouldn’t try to embarrass her elder, especially in front of the teachers.

Yeah, we’re not going to be best friends. I’m fine with that.

©2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved 

Comments (4)

  1. ladyfaceshai says:

    Smack. Down.

  2. accidentalajumma says:

    Heheheh. Nice comeback.

  3. Jane Y. says:

    I came to the US when I was 7 and grew up in a neighborhood where me and my brother were two of the four Asians in the entire neighborhood. I quickly forgot my Korean and my parents never forced me to go to Korean school. It was so hard to communicate with my parents by the time I went to high school and when our family went back to Korea 11 years after we had immigrated, I couldn’t communicate with my relatives. So by the time I went to college I was so determined to learn Korean. It was hard and so embarrassing because my accent and the way I was making up sentences was all wrong. But an international student from Korea said that it was actually cute.. but when she speaks English with an accent she gets made fun of. I have been blessed to learn a bit more Korean after working in a Korean American non-profit.. but I still struggle and always get nervous when I speak to older people! And I still haven’t memorized the Korean alphabet! 🙂

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Don’t give up, Jane! I’m using all the resources at hand: online lessons, work sheets, language Apps. I’m fine talking with older people (since I grew up being the youngest Korean and having to talk with respect to my elders). But when I talk to those who are obviously younger than I am, I have to make sure I speak differently–that’s where I get flustered. LOL! 🙂

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